2020: THE GREAT YEAR OF DATA AND VISUAL JOURNALISM TO EXPLAIN THE PANDEMIC

A very personal list of my favorite projects and the reasons for the event Data + Women Latin America, Data + Women Netherlands and Data + Women Zurich (link)

In visual journalism and data analysis, the topic that set the trend in the year is definitely the Covid-19 pandemic. For this reason, this selection of projects is based on the different angles of investigation and analysis with which visual and data journalists around the world have helped us to better understand the emerging coronavirus Sars-Cov-2.

Por Hassel Fallas

Data analysis and visualization
February 10th 2021

The selected projects demonstrate that journalism should be useful and that when it is done to explain to people the reasons of whatever affects them, the user’s retribution is trust and recognition of the value of such content.

Projects are in descending order..

A lounge, a bar and a class: this is how the coronavirus spreads in the air
Information of universal convenience from El País, Spain, to understand how Covid-19 spreads in closed spaces. More than 12 million readers. Translated into English, Portuguese and Chinese. Illustrations and animations are the axis to understand the key concepts in the multiplication, or reduction, of infections. The dosed text reinforces its understanding and includes methodology, based on scientific studies
Visit project
Why outbreaks like that of the coronavirus grow exponentially and how to 'flatten the curve'
It uses a mathematical simulation to explain with animations what we all wanted to understand back in March: The speed of infections and what the exponential curve is. In addition, how quarantine and physical distancing would help to slow down the reproduction of the virus. Based on interviews with epidemiologists, translated into 14 languages, it reached a milestone in The Washington Post. Its success: Giving people what they wanted to know.
Visit project
Covid-19: The global crisis
Financial Times introduced in the graphs the relevance of using a logarithmic scale instead of a linear one, for more precise comparisons of growth rates of infections among countries. It opened our eyes to the need to contextualize the pandemic with indicators such as "excess deaths" (the volume of deaths that occur above normal), the review of data from death certificates, the criteria for applying detection tests. This media gave a class to journalists on why it is important to know statistics and go beyond basic arithmetic when it comes to analyzing data. Its traffic grew 3.5 times due to coverage.
Visit project
An incalculable lost
The New York Times humanized victims´ data at a time when numbers were at risk of losing meaning to people. It showed that it was people - not statistics - who died. It created a database by collecting obituary descriptions from 270 US newspapers, how their loved ones remembered them. It displayed the magnitude of the incalculable loss of lives with simple illustrations and the amount of text required while the user scrolled through a screen that seemed endless.
Visit project
Masks work. Seriously. We will show you how
An excellent example of visual explanatory journalism from The New York Times. It explains with simulations why the mask should be used. It translates a complex topic into one that is easy to understand, going from the explanation of the simplest concepts to the most complicated ones in plain language but without undermining the technical and scientific specifications
Visit project
The race for the Covid-19 vaccine
La Vanguardia (Spain) does visual journalism of scientific explanation distilling the essence of what should be known about Covid-19 vaccines. Animated graphics broaden the scope of understanding of the technical aspects of texts - short and straight to the point. The special report comes with a note that answers eight key questions to expand the knowledge on the subject.
Visit project
Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries
In July, The Economist added data and analysis to the uncertainty that existed about the official death figures. Using statistical models, it created a baseline to estimate the "excess deaths" that the pandemic was leaving, by predicting the amount of deaths that each country would normally have registered in 2020.
Visit project
Decoding Covid-19
In March, when the pandemic was just beginning in Latin America, South China Morning Post, visually explained that there are 200 types of coronavirus and that only seven of them affect people and three are considered pandemic. Visual journalism which, at that time, helped understand what humanity was facing with Covid-19, how this type of virus worked and how it spread. A project that relieved users of uncertainty through graphics and animations.
Visit project
Vaccine bootcamp
Reuters uses the sense of humor in a series of animations so that any audience understands how the body's immune response works and how vaccines train it to react faster and protect itself. A proof that only when we try to understand a process and what we want to communicate well are we able to find creative ways to say it and make it meaningful to others
Visit project
Covid-19: six companies concentrated the imports of masks from China
In March, Ojo Público (Peru) was one of the first media to set its sights on analyzing data from public contracts during the pandemic. Its research on the market for the purchase and import of surgical masks and N95 respirators showed that Covid-19 became a business for 48 companies that imported these supplies in the first two months of 2020, for sale to medical centers and to the general public
Visit project
100,104 victims of Covid19
in November, El Universal presented a data analysis to measure the magnitude of deaths in Mexico by state and where the trend has accelerated or decreased. It is an important work because it allowed to see the volume of the disease and how it exceeded the official estimates of the federal government
Visit project
The evolution of the pandemic in Argentina
The monitor of La Nación (Argentina) analyzes data and shows trends not only for the country, but also for regions and the world. It condenses a significant amount of numbers that helps to create a quick and effective photograph of the phenomenon in the user's brain.
Visit project
Global Coronavirus Monitor
Reuters offers a daily monitor - translated into five languages - with data from 240 countries. It updates trends to show the country with the highest growth in cases and deaths. It has a personalized profile by country and allows to compare its performance with that of other countries. It is an ideal material for journalistic consultation, based on the official sources of each country.
Visit project
Previous
Next
A lounge, a bar and a class: this is how the coronavirus spreads in the air
Information of universal convenience from El País, Spain, to understand how Covid-19 spreads in closed spaces. More than 12 million readers. Translated into English, Portuguese and Chinese. Illustrations and animations are the axis to understand the key concepts in the multiplication, or reduction, of infections. The dosed text reinforces its understanding and includes methodology, based on scientific studies
Visit project
Why outbreaks like that of the coronavirus grow exponentially and how to 'flatten the curve'
It uses a mathematical simulation to explain with animations what we all wanted to understand back in March: The speed of infections and what the exponential curve is. In addition, how quarantine and physical distancing would help to slow down the reproduction of the virus. Based on interviews with epidemiologists, translated into 14 languages, it reached a milestone in The Washington Post. Its success: Giving people what they wanted to know.
Visit project
Covid-19: The global crisis
Financial Times introduced in the graphs the relevance of using a logarithmic scale instead of a linear one, for more precise comparisons of growth rates of infections among countries. It opened our eyes to the need to contextualize the pandemic with indicators such as "excess deaths" (the volume of deaths that occur above normal), the review of data from death certificates, the criteria for applying detection tests. This media gave a class to journalists on why it is important to know statistics and go beyond basic arithmetic when it comes to analyzing data. Its traffic grew 3.5 times due to coverage.
Visit project
An incalculable lost
The New York Times humanized victims´ data at a time when numbers were at risk of losing meaning to people. It showed that it was people - not statistics - who died. It created a database by collecting obituary descriptions from 270 US newspapers, how their loved ones remembered them. It displayed the magnitude of the incalculable loss of lives with simple illustrations and the amount of text required while the user scrolled through a screen that seemed endless.
Visit project
Masks work. Seriously. We will show you how
An excellent example of visual explanatory journalism from The New York Times. It explains with simulations why the mask should be used. It translates a complex topic into one that is easy to understand, going from the explanation of the simplest concepts to the most complicated ones in plain language but without undermining the technical and scientific specifications
Visit project
The race for the Covid-19 vaccine
La Vanguardia (Spain) does visual journalism of scientific explanation distilling the essence of what should be known about Covid-19 vaccines. Animated graphics broaden the scope of understanding of the technical aspects of texts - short and straight to the point. The special report comes with a note that answers eight key questions to expand the knowledge on the subject.
Visit project
Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries
In July, The Economist added data and analysis to the uncertainty that existed about the official death figures. Using statistical models, it created a baseline to estimate the "excess deaths" that the pandemic was leaving, by predicting the amount of deaths that each country would normally have registered in 2020.
Visit project
Decoding Covid-19
In March, when the pandemic was just beginning in Latin America, South China Morning Post, visually explained that there are 200 types of coronavirus and that only seven of them affect people and three are considered pandemic. Visual journalism which, at that time, helped understand what humanity was facing with Covid-19, how this type of virus worked and how it spread. A project that relieved users of uncertainty through graphics and animations.
Visit project
Vaccine bootcamp
Reuters uses the sense of humor in a series of animations so that any audience understands how the body's immune response works and how vaccines train it to react faster and protect itself. A proof that only when we try to understand a process and what we want to communicate well are we able to find creative ways to say it and make it meaningful to others
Visit project
Covid-19: six companies concentrated the imports of masks from China
In March, Ojo Público (Peru) was one of the first media to set its sights on analyzing data from public contracts during the pandemic. Its research on the market for the purchase and import of surgical masks and N95 respirators showed that Covid-19 became a business for 48 companies that imported these supplies in the first two months of 2020, for sale to medical centers and to the general public
Visit project
100,104 victims of Covid19
in November, El Universal presented a data analysis to measure the magnitude of deaths in Mexico by state and where the trend has accelerated or decreased. It is an important work because it allowed to see the volume of the disease and how it exceeded the official estimates of the federal government
Visit project
The evolution of the pandemic in Argentina
The monitor of La Nación (Argentina) analyzes data and shows trends not only for the country, but also for regions and the world. It condenses a significant amount of numbers that helps to create a quick and effective photograph of the phenomenon in the user's brain.
Visit project
Global Coronavirus Monitor
Reuters offers a daily monitor - translated into five languages - with data from 240 countries. It updates trends to show the country with the highest growth in cases and deaths. It has a personalized profile by country and allows to compare its performance with that of other countries. It is an ideal material for journalistic consultation, based on the official sources of each country.
Visit project
Previous
Next

Learned lessons

How was data visualization good for people?

The fundamental impact of data visualization was to help us understand and give us useful answers in the midst of the great uncertainty of the pandemic.

Hand in hand with visual and data journalists, we have been decoding what Covid-19 is about and how we can learn to live with it. It served to educate us, assimilate epidemiological terms and speak of them properly. It has served to take care of us.

What lessons did data visualization leave to journalism as a professional exercise?

It has been essential to consolidate graphic communication and data analysis as an effective way of representing and presenting information to understand the world. Covid-19 demonstrated, conclusively, that data analysis has never been a fad but rather a core necessity of the journalistic exercise of the 21st century.

In that sense, the pandemic caused the gap between media to widen even more in the field of visual and data journalism. On the one hand:

It crowned the media and journalists who have consistently, within the last decade, strengthened this way of presenting facts.

Sadly, it also exposed the media that have underestimated or suppressed data analysis and visualization teams in recent years. It also left a great lesson to journalists who – until before March 2020 – believed it was irrelevant to learn to analyze data.

 

How to make this impact sustainable over time?

There are three influential factors: persistence of the visual journalist, training, and editorial and managerial vision of the media.

In the last five years, my experience as a teacher in Latin America has taught me that many of the good initiatives to do data journalism and visualization come from journalists themselves and not from those who run the media. Journalists who, in order to publish valuable content, fight against the myopia of editors and managers. They do it in their spare time and with the minimum tools available, searching for funds on their own. In those cases, the persistence of the journalist makes the difference and we must acknowledge that effort exclusively to them.

Staying firm on that path of journalism that explains data visually also implies training to be able, for instance, to react quickly and properly to give a news story. As did the Financial Times team, which lectured us on why it is important to know statistics and go beyond basic arithmetic when analyzing and graphing data.

Finally, for data visualization to be sustainable over time, we need editors and managers with long-range vision, who strengthen and expand multidisciplinary teams in the newsrooms. I summarize it in the words of Javier Zarracina, Graphics Director for USA Today: «Graphics are the top, what people demand, the means to adapt and not die; they must have larger and more active infographic sections. Infographics are the engine of change in newsrooms”.

The use of data, its understanding and transformation into visual journalism is irreversible, don’t resist it. Be prepared to think and do journalism with that in mind, to acquire multidisciplinary skills and learn to play as a team

What trends did 2020 set in this field?

2020 taught us that data analysis in journalism must be more tied to mathematics and statistics. It has become clear that rates should be used to compare the incidence of the virus between countries or regions, that mathematical simulation models are useful and, last, that learning to use programs like R and Python to automate some processes and handle databases like the one from Johns Hopkins University and the use given to logarithms are relevant:

  • Estimate the cases duplication indicator on one´s own account and compare it with official data
  • Use the logarithmic scale instead of the linear scale in graphs, for more precise comparisons of growth rates of infections between countries.

Another trend is that we must understand multidisciplinarity not only to work with engineers and designers in the newsroom but with scientists, epidemiologists, academics and all those specialists who generate valuable knowledge.

This year has also taught us that journalism must examine data with less passion and more science, that is, assimilate that data is – often – a human production and therefore subject to biases and errors.

Finally, hopefully editors and media managers have understood that good visual information is rewarded by the audience and profitable, if they have the vision to invest and develop those areas.

In terms of storytelling and visualization, this year consolidated:

  • The scrollytelling technique in the design of websites.
  • The use of animations to explain the scope of key concepts.
  • Graphics tend to be more static and with detailed explanations to amplify the user’s understanding of the topic. Interactivity is in the background and justified when the user is guided to discover something of their interest. For example: the virus reproduction rate for the specific community where it resides.
  • Data visualization is not just graphics, but any element that increases the understanding of the subject for the user. The use of the resource depends on which one helps me to better fulfill the purpose of informing.
  • Text should be dosed and to the point

Covid 19 inaugurated an era in which good visual journalism must be translated into multiple languages ​​because its quality and usefulness are essential in an interconnected worl

Project Finder

In this section you can see the complete list of projects that I have compiled throughout the year. It is likely that there are many more that I do not know of and may have slipped my radar. I invite you to share your favorites by tweeting me @HasselFallas.

El buscador solo está disponible en versión web de este especial.

Credits:

All rights reserved

2021

(The articles in La Data Cuenta are the property of their author, Hassel Fallas. If you wish to reproduce or refer to them, please cite the original source and link the link to its publication).

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